Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"A (Chronic) Victim Of Circumstance"

It appears that if you remain alive to get old enough, certain incidents, even highly unusual ones, cycle around for a reprise appearance.  What happened to me recently – which I could easily have done without – brought to mind the original occurrence – which I could also have done without, only more so.  Which I shall explain in due course.

Those of the appropriate age may recall the words “schlemiel” and “schlemazel” from the "Opening Titles" sequence for Laverne and Shirley, the two words followed by “Hassenfeffer Incorporated”, and then running. 

Though I am no expert in the Yiddish language, I am aware of these words, and of their traditional definitions.  A schlemiel is a hard-luck person who is continually spilling soup on himself.  A schlemazel is a hard-luck person other people are continually spilling soup on.

In the context of the following “Recurring Anecdote of Misfortune”, I believe I quality as a legitimate candidate for the “Shlemazel Hall of Fame.”

Recently, we arranged to have dinner at a restaurant with a couple who are new to the area.  It was like a preliminary “play date” for people in their sixties. 

They were both extremely companionable.  The woman was in Dr. M’s racket, and her husband was a neurologist, from whom I immediately solicited medical advice.  (His response to my complaint was the second favorite advice I can get from a doctor, which is “Leave it alone.”  My favorite is, “I can make that go away, for very little cost and it won’t hurt a bit.”  I have never received that type of medical advice, but I remain eternally hopeful of the possibility.)  

Near the end of the meal, as the dishes were being cleared prior to dessert, the waitperson accidentally knocked over the wine glass in front of me, shattering the glass on the floor, after first spilling its contents onto the tablecloth and my to-that-juncture pristine and stylish khaki pants.

There followed the standard flurry of apologies and the obligatory “It’s all right, it’s nothing” from the schlemazel.  Then a suitably chagrined restaurant manager arrived, echoing the apology, and offering to pay for the drycleaning if I brought in the receipt for the rehabilitation of my khakis.

The manager’s offer led me to pause.  For two reasons.  One, my khaki pants were “Machine Washable.”  And two, the following:

Years ago, on my birthday, Dr. M and I decided to dine at the acclaimed Palm Restaurant, an upscale eatery, notable for their steaks.  (No matter what the cost, I have never had a great-tasting steak in Los Angeles.  My dissatisfaction, it has been suggested, has something to do with the California-served beef being corn-fed rather than grass-fed, as the Eastern cattle are.  

My explanation is somewhat different.  I believe that the cows that are transported West were lied to and told they were going to be in the movies.  What you are tasting is the disappointment with how things actually turned out.  For whatever reason, I have never been delighted with California steak.)

We are enjoying our meal at The Palm.  It is a festive occasion.  It’s my birthday.  And to commemorate the milestone, I am wearing a spanking new camelhair sports jacket.  I do not recall exactly what Dr. M was wearing, but suffice it to say, we were a fine-looking couple.

At that point, as I was enjoying my reflection in an imaginary mirror, a waiter passing by missed a step, spilling a full plate of green beans all over my camelhair sports jacket.

I would call it déjà vu, because of the wine-spilling, but this incident came first, making it, technically, a deja pre-vu.  This similar unfortunateness was followed by the same repercussions – a series of profuse apologizes, followed by the manager’s offering to pay the bill for the drycleaning. 

Even though The Palm is a five-mile or so drive from Santa Monica, and the charge for drycleaning a sports jacket is hardly crippling, I decided to take them up on their offer.  (I would call it a “generous” offer, but a “generous” offer would be “Dinner is on us!”)  I surrendered the sports jacket to the local Dry Clean Express, and a few days later when I picked it up, I pocketed the bill, and I drove back to The Palm for my promised reimbursement.

I park the car, and I head into The Palm, thoughtfully arriving when the restaurant was not busy, and they would not have to inconvenience their customers to attend to me.  The restaurant was, in fact, empty.  The only person there was a Mediterraneanly complexioned gentleman standing idly behind the “Arrival Desk.”

I walk up to him, and I present my drycleaning bill, explaining the bean-spilling incident and the subsequent offer of reimbursement.  The man listened passively to my story, and then replied,

“Get the fuck out of here.”

Regular readers are aware that I am not confrontational by nature.  In this case, backing away seemed heightenedly appropriate, as the man’s breadth of suit jacket indicated a seriously pumped up upper body, or an “Enforcer” “packing heat.”

I judiciously retreated from The Palm, and I never went back.  I also like to repeat the words The Palm as frequently as I can, so as to encourage others to satisfy their steak-eating requirements at a more congenial locale.

So, years later, here I am again, only this time, it’s not steak, it’s wine, and it’s not my sports jacket, it’s my pants.  After a moment’s consideration, I thank the current debacle’s manager for his offer, and I politely turn it down.

I know myself.  I am aware of my over-compensating for previous embarrassments.  I could see myself returning to that restaurant, waving the drycleaning bill menacingly under the nose of a quivering employee, and, with veins of anger pulsating in my forehead, growling,

“Gimme the money, or I’ll mess you up good!

That would be wrong.  Nobody deserves to be spoken to that way.  Even the idiot at The Palm. 

Besides, it’s not necessary.

That man has to live with himself. 

That’s punishment enough.


JED said...

I like how this story ended. The nasty part of me wanted to hear how you told the guy off or told the owner of the restaurant about him. But your acceptance of the situation was refreshing. I know this attitude won't work in all situations but I agree with you on this one. As my grandfather used to say, "A dog can win a fight with a skunk any day. But why would he want to?"

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Thank you for explaining properly the difference between a schlemiel and a schlemazle. Worth tweeting, and so I did.


Canda said...

I would have returned and spoken to the original person who said they'd pay for the dry cleaning. I would have then told him what the other guy said to you.

You allowed some cretin to get away with unacceptable behavior. "The guy has to live with himself" is no punishment for him, since many awful people live in California, who do unspeakable things, and sleep very soundly. Quite a few of them are in Hollywood.

Don't mean to pick on you, since you're a nice man. Further, if you have a pair of pants that need dry cleaned, and not the khakis you're going to wash, I'd have the restaurant that offered pay for that. They are getting away with something otherwise. I would have expected no less than a round of drinks.

Mike said...

So you were humped, which gave you the hump. That's real camel hair. Two humps.